Where do we go from here

Agriculture has opportunity to shape important debates

Could there be a positive shift in how people view agriculture in this country, and particularly in California, where food availability and the concerns of commercial growers are generally non-issues because grocery stores continue to be well-stocked?

Questions from readers related to my story on the projected record almond crop were certainly natural: “how can they predict a record crop like this during a drought?” That question is answered in the story.

A couple of seemingly unrelated stories popped up recently that features some well-placed people who could help the overall cause of promoting agriculture. Not necessarily as a PR agency would, but in a larger, more philosophical sense that births a mindset and eventually public policy that supports American agriculture in ways that are truly helpful.

California Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross likes to talk about the “foodie” craze and how people seem more socially attached to their food. The premise behind her arguments as I understand them is that these same people are also interested in where their food comes from.

Secretary Ross does seem to get it, and to further that connection between the food’s source and its presentation on our plates, she is working on promoting agritourism through a partnership with the California Grown program.

In a separate story, but arguably related in a big-picture sense, University of California President Janet Napolitano recently pitched her idea to the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s board for a comprehensive food initiative.

Napolitano apparently wants to put the weight of the UC system’s research prowess behind a plan to help solve some challenging issues related to global food production. If ever there was a university system poised to lead such a robust idea it would be the University of California.

UC is well-positioned

The UC is California’s land grant institution; its Cooperative Extension service celebrates its centennial this year of applied research that has helped California agriculture become the giant it is among global markets.

Agritourism has been talked up in the past. Some are doing it on a small scale. There are wine trails and other marketing efforts to attract tourists to smaller agricultural venues where you can pick your own apples or sample limited-production wines. Bloggers offer virtual tours of their farming operations in California and throughout the United States.

Both are great ideas that could be leveraged to help California’s $100 billion agricultural economy through some challenging times, in spite of what some can rightfully point to as robust times.

Let’s look at these two ideas as one that could move commercial agricultural production into a spotlight that needs to be focused on in the state that produces the lion’s share of America’s food. Why, for instance, does American agricultural policy seem so Midwest-focused when even former governors-turned-USDA Secretary will admit that the bulk of America’s food supply is California grown?

For all that California has going for it – its Mediterranean climate and surface water delivery systems – there are challenges related to both. There are certainly other challenges to be addressed.

Why not embrace the opportunity of Secretary Ross’ efforts to promote agritourism for the opportunity it is to educate consumers about all facets of their food supply? That’s why I’m an Ag journalist today: I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I’m fascinated by all that goes into it.

Let’s also engage with Napolitano in the discussions related to her comprehensive food initiative and build a groundswell of support to meet the challenges that California agriculture faces in the 21st Century?

Follow me on Twitter @ToddFitchette or reach me at [email protected]

TAGS: Agenda
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